Mason Hughes may be the funnest high school football coach to play for in all of Tulare County.
Hughes’ laid-back approach — he plays a mixture of contemporary, hip hop and rap music during practice — has the Central Valley Christian football team on the cusp of something special.
“I like music,” Hughes said. “It’s fun. It adds something to football. It makes the practices a little more fun.”
At Monday’s practice during a water break, Taylor Swift’s hit song “Bad Blood” roared out of a loud portable speaker, and the catchy chorus quickly drew a short sing-along amongst a few players despite the summer heat reaching triple digits.
When the time’s appropriate, Hughes likes to provide a “you can be serious, but still have fun” atmosphere, and it’s that kind of mindset that has his Cavaliers believing in his affable style of coaching.
“The music kind of pumps us up and gets us ready,” senior lineman Blake Walker said. “It puts us in gear to kick some butt. When everyone hears music, it’s just a faster, quicker-pace kind of day, and you just go hard when you hear it.”
Hughes is entering his seventh season at the Visalia private school, and during the past two years, he and his staff have directed CVC to back-to-back winning seasons. Since 2013, the Cavaliers have won a combined 19 games, including three in the postseason.
The highlight of Hughes’ coaching career, so far, is the Cavaliers’ outstanding 2014 campaign. They went 9-1 overall in the regular season with their only loss coming to the Dinuba Emperors, the eventual Central Sequoia League and Central Section Division II champions.
In the Division IV playoffs, CVC routed Madera South 50-6 and outlasted Chavez 38-35 to play its way into the championship game. There, the Cavaliers lost 24-6 to Liberty-Madera Ranchos.
“It was easy to coach them,” Hughes said of last season’s team. “They were a bunch of coaches on the field, and they were really mature.”
But many of those key players have graduated. Gone is leading rusher Marc Garbani (1,339 yards and seven touchdowns), top tackler Alex te Velde (81 stops and four sacks) and quarterback Jack Vander dussen (781 yards and nine touchdowns). Although those losses may hurt, it’s the drop-off of size in the Cavaliers’ trenches that may cause more concern for Hughes.
“We lose something we’ve always had an advantage in, and that is our size and our strength over an opponent,” Hughes said. “We lost a lot of those guys, but we’re faster and more athletic than we’ve typically been. But we’re not that huge and giant team like we have been. That can be an issue for us. I don’t think we can just sit back and run over teams, and then on defense, we can’t just sit and allow our D-line to dominate.”
The Cavaliers do, however, return junior center Dane Nelson and Walker, a guard.
Walker, a towering figure at 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, should be the pile driver. As a senior, he’s received recruiting interest from Fresno State, Sacramento State, San Diego State, Washington State, Weber State, Wyoming and UC Davis. He was voted as a team captain by his peers.
“Blake has got to be big for us,” Hughes said. “He’s huge. He does everything right. He’s very technical. He’s the nicest guy, so we’re trying to get him to be more hungry in the game and finish blocks.”
At the skilled positions, senior Kolin Stock (5-10, 185) is CVC’s top returning rusher and Steve Van Grouw will refill his role as the Cavaliers’ No. 1 wide receiver. Stock darted for 477 yards on 69 totes (6.9 yards per carry) as a junior, and he should be the primary runner in Hughes run-first, pro-style offense.
“Kolin Stock is going to be our guy,” Hughes said. “Stock has a ton of experience. He played well for us down the stretch last year. He’s similar to Garbani. Not as fast, but more of an inside-the-tackles guy. I’m excited for him. I think he’s going to have a good year.”
Van Grouw (6-3, 190) caught a team-best 23 receptions for 432 yards and six scores. He, along with senior Collin Stockton, should provide the Cavaliers a nice one-two punch at the wideout positions.
“We’ll throw the ball more,” Hughes said. “We have too.”
CVC hosts Woodlake for its season opener on Aug. 28. Kickoff is at 7:15 p.m.
“Championships are on our mind, but we’re going to take it one game at a time and see where that leads us,” Walker said.
•CVC and Woodlake met for the first time in seven years last season with the Cavaliers earning a 60-7 road win. In their last three meetings, CVC has outscored Woodlake 154-26.
•CVC and Bakersfield Christian have met at least once every year since 2008 and have faced off eight times, including once in the postseason. CVC owns a 4-3 regular season advantage against Bakersfield Chrisitian, but the Eagles knocked the Cavaliers out of the Central Section Division IV playoffs in 2013. CVC won last season’s road clash 49-19.
•Since starting its series with Lindsay in 2012, the Cavaliers have won two of their three games against the Cardinals. CVC trounced Lindsay 51-6 in last year’s home meeting.
•The Cavaliers have recorded back-to-back victories over Chowchilla. CVC routed the Redskins 44-6 last season and also edged them 39-18 in 2013.
• The series began in 2012 with Fowler winning 41-13, but the Cavaliers have won the last two clashes by a combined score of 111-22.
•CVC opens Central Sequoia League play against Dinuba. Under Hughes, the Cavaliers have never beaten the Emperors, but have been competitive in their last two losses (17-0 in 2014 and 24-21 in 2013). CVC has dropped seven straight contests against Dinuba, and has not defeated the Emperors since 2008, where the Cavaliers notched a 13-6 road victory.
•CVC has won its last two CSL showdowns against Exeter, including a 42-15 victory in 2014. The Cavaliers have also won three of their last four meetings.
•The Cavaliers snapped a six-game CSL losing streak against the Vikings with an impressive 40-34 road win last season. New coach at Kingsburg (David Wilson).
•Cavaliers are 4-2 against the Bears under Hughes. In those four victories, the Cavaliers have outscored the Bears 142-14 and have posted three shutouts. CVC blanked Selma 42-0 in 2014.
•CVC has won five consecutive Battle for the Boot rivalry games versus Immanuel, and is fresh off a 49-6 beatdown in 2014. During that winning stretch, CVC is averaging more than 40 points per game on offense. The Cavaliers last loss came in 2009, Hughes first year as coach.
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